Thomas Tommasina

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Thomas Tommasina (1855 – 29 January 1935) [1] was an artist turned physicist who worked on atmospheric ionization and gravitational theories mainly after moving to Switzerland. An experimenter as well as a theoretician, he invented a radio-receiver-like device while studying ionospheric disturbances in the upper atmosphere and used it in long-range weather prediction.


Early life

Tommasina was born in the town of Intra (today part of Verbania) on the shores of Lake Maggiore in the Kingdom of Lombardy–Venetia. In his early years, he admired the Italian school of painting, particularly that of Leonardo da Vinci.

Verbania Comune in Piedmont, Italy

Verbania is the most populous comune (municipality) and the capital city of the province of Verbano-Cusio-Ossola in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy. It is situated on the shore of Lake Maggiore, about 91 km (57 mi) north-west of Milan and about 40 km (25 mi) from Locarno in Switzerland. It had a population of 30,827 at 1 January 2017.

Lake Maggiore lake in Italy and Switzerland

Lake Maggiore or Verbano is a large lake located on the south side of the Alps. It is the second largest lake in Italy and the largest in southern Switzerland. The lake and its shoreline are divided between the Italian regions of Piedmont and Lombardy and the Swiss canton of Ticino. Located halfway between Lake Orta and Lake Lugano, Lake Maggiore extends for about 65 kilometres between Locarno and Arona.

Kingdom of Lombardy–Venetia constituent land of the Austrian Empire (1815–1866)

The Kingdom of Lombardy–Venetia, commonly called the "Lombardo-Venetian Kingdom", was a constituent land of the Austrian Empire. It was created in 1815 by resolution of the Congress of Vienna in recognition of the Austrian House of Habsburg-Lorraine's rights to Lombardy and the former Republic of Venice after the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy, proclaimed in 1805, had collapsed. It was finally dissolved in 1866 when its remaining territory was incorporated into the recently proclaimed Kingdom of Italy.


Tommasina studied art. In 1885 he became inspired by the works of Alessandro Volta, took an interest in physics and went to Geneva to study under Charles Soret. Here he worked on the physics behind the hardness of solids. Following the works of Julius Elster and Hans Friedrich Geitel he joined Édouard Sarasin in studies on the ionization of air and related phenomena. [2] [3] He was a doctor of science and member of the National Institute of Geneva from 1902.

Alessandro Volta Italian physicist, chemist, and pioneer of electricity

Alessandro Giuseppe Antonio Anastasio Volta was an Italian physicist, chemist, and pioneer of electricity and power who is credited as the inventor of the electric battery and the discoverer of methane. He invented the Voltaic pile in 1799, and reported the results of his experiments in 1800 in a two-part letter to the President of the Royal Society. With this invention Volta proved that electricity could be generated chemically and debunked the prevalent theory that electricity was generated solely by living beings. Volta's invention sparked a great amount of scientific excitement and led others to conduct similar experiments which eventually led to the development of the field of electrochemistry.

Charles Soret Swiss physicist and chemist

Charles Soret was a Swiss physicist and chemist. He is known for his work on thermodiffusion.

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Tommasina wrote a book on the "physics of gravitation and dynamic of the Universe" ("La Physique de la Gravitation et la Dynamique de l'Univers") in 1927. [4] He also worked on the orbits of comets during this period. [5] [6] His work on gravity using wave models was founded on the idea of ether. He also wrote an introduction to a French translation of a book by Alfred Russel Wallace in 1907 - "La place de l'homme dans l'univers : études sur les résultats des recherches scientifiques, sur l'unité et la pluralité des mondes".

According to ancient and medieval science, aether, also spelled æther or ether and also called quintessence, is the material that fills the region of the universe above the terrestrial sphere. The concept of aether was used in several theories to explain several natural phenomena, such as the traveling of light and gravity. In the late 19th century, physicists postulated that aether permeated all throughout space, providing a medium through which light could travel in a vacuum, but evidence for the presence of such a medium was not found in the Michelson–Morley experiment, and this result has been interpreted as meaning that no such luminiferous aether exists.

Tommasina invented a telephonic receiver system which he adapted as a weather forecasting system in 1901. Called the "Electro-radiophone" it picked up electric discharges in the atmosphere and transmitted them over wires to where it could be heard in the form of sound. The receiver made use of the Branly effect. It may have been one of the earliest ideas on using wireless telegraphy in meteorology. [7] [8] [9] [10] Tommasina's device had also been of interest to Guglielmo Marconi. When Marconi claimed a patent there were several counter-claims and it was suggested that the true inventor of the so-called "mercury-coherer" used in the first transatlantic telegraphy was Tommasina. Tommasina did not however use it for the purpose of wireless-telegraphy nor did he claim to be its inventor. [11]

Édouard Branly French physicist

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Guglielmo Marconi Italian inventor and radio pioneer

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Personal life

On 29 January 1935, Tommasina died at his villa in Champel, Geneva, Switzerland. [2]

Champel neighborhood of Geneva city

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Geneva Large city in Switzerland

Geneva is the second-most populous city in Switzerland and the most populous city of Romandy, the French-speaking part of Switzerland. Situated where the Rhône exits Lake Geneva, it is the capital of the Republic and Canton of Geneva.

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  1. "Bibliographia scientiae naturalis Helvetica". p. 12. Retrieved 2016-07-04.
  2. 1 2 Guye, Charles-Eugene (1936). "Thomas Tommasina, 1855-1935". Compte rendu des séances de la Société de physique et d'histoire naturelle. 53: 5–6.
  3. Danne, Jacques (1908). Sur lea courbesile radioactivite induite obtenues par MM. Sarazin et Tommasina. Paris, C. R. Acad, sci., 146:394-367.
  4. Buhl, A. "L'Enseignement Mathématique, 27 (1928)" (in French). Critical review of the dissertation. pp. 338–339. Retrieved 2016-07-04.
  5. Tommasina, Thomas (1909) Les trajectoires planetaires siderales ou nonkepleriennes d'apres la nouvelle theorie. Arch. Sci. phys. Geneve 27:536-538.
  6. Tommasina, Thomas (1909). Application a la theorie des cometes. Arch. Sci. Phys. Geneve (Ser. 4) 27:173-176.
  7. Walker, Malcolm (2011). History of the Meteorological Office. Cambridge University Press. p. 147.
  8. "An electrical-storm prophet". The Literary Digest. 23 (18): 534. 1901.
  9. A US 700161 A,Thomas Tommasina,"Telephonic receiver for wireless signal apparatus",published May 13, 1902
  10. Phillips, Vivian J. (1980). Early radio wave detectors. Peter Peregrinus. pp. 55–56.
  11. Bondyopadhyay, Probir K (2015). "Sir J C Bose's Diode Detector Received Marconi's First Transatlantic Wireless Signal of December 1901 (The "Italian Navy Coherer" Scandal Revisited)". IETE Technical Review. 15 (5): 377. doi:10.1080/02564602.1998.11416773.